We believe shared singing is great fun and builds and strengthens community and self expression. We want singing to be a greater part of our daily lives. We hope that these pages give you ideas and resources to help you clearly envision and set up the group singing situation you prefer.
Julia Friend and Nicole Singer want to thank these folks for contributing content and suggestions: Chris Bracken, Ulrike Brauneis, Dennis Cook, Judy Cook, Alan Friend, Rosalie Friend, Chloe Maher, Liz Minler, Rick Mohr, Justin Morrison, Talitha Phillips, Scott Prouty, Ken Schatz, Charmaine Slaven, Natty Smith, Stefan Read, Jenni Voorhees, Heather Wood.
Click on the tabs below to read more in your area of interest, singer or organizer. Within each tab are accordian dropdowns to information in that category. Click on the accordian title to open the article; click on it again to close it.
There are many styles of folk singing communities, like Folk Sing, Pub Sing, Song Swap, Round Robin, Sing Along, and Hootenany. This guide discusses some potential common elements of these events.
See How Will Your Sing Work? for a starter list of possibilities.
Characteristics of folk sings:
- They are participatory, not performance oriented, so everyone gets a turn.
- There’s usually a leader for each song.
- Usually participants can sing along on the chorus (of songs that have one) and only need to know all the words to songs they want to lead.
- They focus on vocal participation first. Instruments, if present, are used for back-up.
These events might include sea music and sea shanties, gospel, work songs, drinking songs, ballads, and much more. (This guide does not delve into the singing of Shape Note music or rounds.)
The best way to ensure a good time for all is to clearly envision and proactively communicate the kind of singing experience you want to create with participants. To this end, we’ve distilled the building blocks of these events. You can use them to help you clarify the aspects of your singing event that are unique.
What makes group singing fun?
The aim of a good singing session is to make every attendee feel like a participant, not just a passive listener. Some hallmarks of a good session are:
- Inclusion: Everyone should feel they are part of the session.
- Acceptance: Even if the singer or the song is not top quality, or is not to an individual’s taste, each singer and each song is accepted by the group and given an attentive hearing.
- Encouragement: Applause, a word of approval, a thumbs-up, or a smile makes a singer very happy. This is a great way to make sure new singers feel welcomed and valued in the group.
- Surprise: Learning a new song, remembering an old song you’ve forgotten, hearing a new person sing, all offer variety and new experiences that add to the success of the session.
There are many folk resource indexes online. Our lists are by no means comprehensive, but they will give you a good place to start.
This page contains the following sections:
- Online Audio Archives
- Podcasts & Streaming
- Text & Musical Notation
- Where to Buy Source Recordings
- Organizations & Communities
- Books About Singing
Historical collections of source recordings. These are source recordings of singers who we might consider "tradition bearers." Try them out if you want to learn or listen to some old folk songs or old singing styles.
- Digital Archive Streamer — Virtual radio station of music archives. Streaming tool that searches several online archive at once and makes playlists. Great for easy listening and new discoveries. Includes Sacred Harp, Lomax recordings, HonkingDuck collection of 78 rpm records, and more.
- Digital Library of Appalachia — "Several thousand non-commercial sound recordings that document much of Appalachian music's geographic, ethnic, vocal, and instrumental diversity."
- Max Hunter Collection — "Archive of almost 1600 Ozark Mountain folk songs, recorded between 1956 and 1976." Great collection.
- Traditional Adirondack Music — Streaming mp3s of old singers from the North Woods.
- British Library Archival Sound Recordings, World and Traditional Music — Ethnographic collections predominantly from Africa, South Asia, and Australasia.
- Juneberry — Early American roots music. Huge collection of music from the 1920s and on. Many genres of early US folk as well as Cape Breton, Calypso, Irish...
- Irish Traditional Music Archive, Sound recordings — ITMA is "a national public reference archive and resource centre for the traditional song, instrumental music and dance of Ireland."
- Songs of Atlantic Canada — Collected by MacEdward Leach. Includes songs from Cape Breton and Newfoundland.
- Museum of Canadian Music, Folklore section — Free mp3s. “The only private Music Museum in Canada [whose] purpose is to collect and catalogue and document every Canadian recording, in all of their variations.
- Alan Lomax's Sound Recordings — Epic collection of folk music from many parts of the US as well as areas of the Caribbean, Europe, and Asia. Includes video recordings and many research resources. Digitized and preserved by the Association for Cultural Equity.
The best of folk radio from the US and beyond, available on demand right from your computer.
- Sugar in the Gourd — Old Time from all times, with a bit of genre crossover now and then.
- Folk Alley — "Folk, traditional, Celtic, and world music with 24-hour streaming from 89.7 WKSU, Kent State University. Includes information on featured artists." (low traditional content)
- FolkCast — British, new and old, varying tastes.
- A Folk Song A Day — Jon Boden sings a song a day for a year. Compiled once a month into podcasts purchasable through iTunes. Includes background on the songs.
- NPR Podcasts — Music section includes old-time, bluegrass, blues, celtic, and country music from partner stations nationwide.
- BBC Radio 2, Folk & Acoustic — British radio show by Mike Harding featuring "an impeccable selection of the best in folk, roots and acoustic music."
- CBC Radio 2, Concerts on Demand — Concerts aired on Canadian radio, filterable by genre.
- Andreas' Trad & Folk Radio Links — Many of the radio sites include streaming or podcasts.
- Folk Streams — "A national preserve of documentary films about American roots cultures, streamed with essays about the traditions and filmmaking. Includes transcriptions, study and teaching guides, suggested readings, and links to related websites."
- Shanties from the Seven Seas — Hulton Clint's recordings of the works found in Stan Hugel's canonical collection.
- Take Six — Searchable database of the archives of six of the UK's most prominent folksong collectors. From CDSS's sister organization, EFDSS.
- Duke University Library Sheet Music Collections — Index of online collections of sheet music, including folk collections.
- Andreas' Songs & Ballads Link List — Traditional songs, folksongs and ballads from Germany, France, England, Britanny, Ireland, Scotland as well as from North America and other regions.
- Australian Folk Songs — Lyrics, notation, artists and publications. Extensive links to Australian and other English-language resources.
Of course there are many places to buy folk label recordings online. Here are a few of our favorites.
- The CDSS Store, Folksong collection — We have lots of great records right here! Search online or call for personalized advice.
- Smithsonian Folkways — Large and eclectic collection. Clips and liner notes available online. [Also has a podcast; see below.]
- Field Recorders' Collective — Dedicated to the release of materials (music and photographs) from private collections. Clips online.
- FolkLib Index of Folk Music Societies — By location; includes the US and Canada, plus a smattering of other countries.
- Mudcat Cafe — Digital Tradition Folk Song Database. Has a Forum to request/discuss lyrics or other questions, and a search tool to look up song texts. Includes midi sound files. Many CDSS members who sing are mudcatters, and there's also a strong following in England, so it's helpful in outreach and networking.
- Sacred Harp and Shape Note singing — All things Shape Note.
- Sing Out — Another hub for social singing resources and publications.
- Henscratches and Flyspecks: How To Read Melodies From Songbooks In Twelve Confusing Lessons. By Pete Seeger. New York: Berkeley Books, 1973.
[available via worldcat, Amazon ]
- The Incompleat Folksinger. By Pete Seeger, edited by Jo Metcalf Schwartz. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1972.
[available via worldcat, Amazon ]